As the opening notes of ‘Promised Land’ broke the noise we could see throngs approach us from the left as the masses ignored the barriers and landed in space.
So, this all started when Englishtown was announced. My friends on Long Island said, Too Far?? I seemed to be alone having weathered the absence of the Band during the hiatus. My appreciation for the openers, New Riders of the Purple Sage and Marshall Tucker, were my selling points. Even with my driving, taking care of tolls and gas and picking up the tickets from the ticket seller (TSS), was I destined to be alone for the ride?
Late in the evening, after scouting for a passenger on my journey, I found MK, asleep in the back of his brother in laws car. Brother-in-law was looking to have someone else care for MK that night. I obliged and he was dropped off into my back seat and I was on my way. Traveling the grid of highways that blankets LI and cross the GWD, South on the 95 and on my journey into the ‘land of darkness’. (on Long Island the travel into New Jersey was met with the petroleum distilleries, night time fires atop stacks of polluting chimneys with a smell that I would imagine was as unhealthy as it was ugly. I was to find out much later in life that there was a reason New Jersey was called the Garden State, another story for another time).
(Funny thing in the 70’s, we never realized just how big this would be. Following the empty bags of empty beer bottles down the highway I knew we were on the right track. Was very glad in the late 80’s to be part of the unofficial crews that helped gather the glass and such and bring it to the many receptacles offering shelter to the recyclables left behind after the shows. Truth be told, I found many accouterments of our tribe; lighters, bottles, shirts, thing-a-thingamajigs, cans and ‘stuff’. So the rewards of cleaning up meant I spread good will and many times the act payed for itself, as well as allowed me time to recover after the shows.)
I followed the leaders to a road, outside the Racetrack, that halted quick. Local residents seemed torn between yelling ‘get off my lawn’ and ‘$10 to park here’. The scenes that followed reminded me of that event less than a decade ago that closed the NY Thruway. Abandoned vehicles, vast multitudes walking up to the closed parking lot, and back again… all night long. Sometime after we stopped and between the midnight the designated hour the parking lots were opened. MK woke up in the back seat bellowing something about ‘where am I’. After sharing a quick recap of how he ended up in my car and how we got to where we were, I remembered to remind him ‘we are where we need to be, doing what needs to be done’.
The parking lots opened and we had a clearer sense of what was to come. After turning over our tickets and entering the field it was obvious someone had the sense to enclose the area. I filled my canteen from a water spout near the concessions and proceeded to find a spot to spend the day. While the day was still young, the heat and humidity of the “Swamp State” soon took hold and it was clear that we would need to find a spot that would shade as the day went on. Most of the day was spent in the Sun, and my blanket was shelter enough to try and sleep a bit before the opening acts came on. As I was awakened by the stage banter I turned to observe the a sea of humanity that had followed us to this place, as far as the eyes could see.
The Music was as tremendous as it gets. The NRPS graced us with a set, maybe not as loud as it could have been, yet satisfying. We attempted to move to the front of the stage. This place had filled fast and everyone seemed to have that need to be up front. We milled past the blankets full of on lookers and walked past the stage. That was the last time I was on the inner circle of Speaker towers that day. The rest of the time was stage right, behind (in what became the middle) of what seemed to be an ever expanding group of like minded folks trying to be where they needed to be. Even in the heat of the day everyone seemed to be OK with it. Smiles, hugs, tie dye and good feelings continued through the set and the break.
Marshall Tucker was magnificent. The New Guys of Southern Rock exploded onto a scene that accepted and adored them. I had no idea that there would be so many folks singing their songs. I was was naive, never once seeming to sense any danger, and this crowd seemed to be in the same state of mind. Everything was everything. I thought that Southern Rock was a Long Island thing, how little did I know (than as now this is a reoccurring theme). After singing my heart out to the songs of day I felt the need to re-fill my canteen. That is when the enormous undertaking that became know as ‘Englishtown’ became real to me. As I wandered to the spot I had earlier filled my canteen I found the grass was trampled, mud was ankle to knee deep and the line was getting anxious. Near the concessions, the field was filled with sweat, beer, water and a lot of good feelings. After filling my canteen, truly a deft exercise of walking on, through over and under the then undefinable humanity that came to represent my tribe, I was now good to go. Cold water was now a commodity, easily traded for a quick bite to eat and a smile. My most memorable smile that day? I’ll tell you. To transverse the mud, multitudes, and miles back to our encampment for the day I came across someone who seemed to have had as much as she could take and was frozen in what seemed to be a hunched, heavy and steadfast crouch. Those around her seemed to be more than a little concerned. I offered the contents of the canteen and poured out some cool wet water onto the back of a head I had never seen before. The reward was an emblazoned smile, ear to ear with eyes opened to the point where the light that entered was magnified through the expression on her face. I was where I needed to be, doing what needed to be done. After sharing what was left of the contents of the canteen and venturing back for one more excursion in the mud, my refilled canteen and I found our way back to the encampment.
Along the way I saw a familiar gait, and called KP. The smiles of my buddy from High School who had gone round and round trying to find his friends and presumably his ride back to Long Island graced my view. I let him know he was not alone. He hung with us for the duration of the show and I left him sleeping under the car that had brought him to this place after the show.
By this time the heat had pretty much exhausted us and we slept again till the opening notes of the Promised Land and we were back at the races.
We danced, laughed and sang through the first set. Halfway through the second set MK took his rest. I awoke him to the opening of Terrapin and we ended the night awake, alive and astounded.
The ride home was uneventful, MK slept, keeping with his long known theme of bailing when it was his turn to drive (many other stories) and our journey was over. Many have asked over the years was this my favorite show, at with that I explained then as now; “My Favorite Show is the Next Show”.